It’s Jimmy On Why The Carolina Panthers Will Beat The San Francisco 49ers In The 2014 NFC Divisional Playoffs

Get your popcorn ready, Charlotte, NC!

No, T.O.’s not coming to town — at least not that I’m aware of — but Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Aldon Smith are headed down South to the land of the pines, a.k.a. “the town that Billy Graham built,” this weekend for an NFL Week 10 rematch between the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers.  
The Queen City of the South is all set to host the NFL’s most anticipated divisional playoff game of the weekend at Bank of America Stadium this Sunday, January 12, 2014 at 1:05 PM.
Charlotte hasn’t hosted an NFL playoff game since the home team was trounced by another NFC West opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, way back in January 2009, in the same divisional round. 
Carolina lost that match-up with Kurt Warner & Co. who were on their way to a runner-up finish in Super Bowl XLIII (43) after earning their division’s Wild Card berth by posting a 9-7 regular season record. 
Despite posting identical 12-4 regular season records and Carolina’s 10-9 victory at San Francisco in Week 10 earlier this season, the 49ers are favored by a point according to the Pro Football betting site, footballlocks.com.
But I’m here to tell you that That Ain’t Gonna Happen with two claps and a Ric Flair “Wooooooooh!”  Wait a sec…that’s the 49ers’ thing now, isn’t it?
Instead, the Carolina Panthers will win on Sunday with stronger quarterback play, better coaching and a more punishing defense than the 49ers.
1. Cam Newton vs Colin Kaepernick
Cam and Colin have become household names in their first three NFL seasons.
Cam Newton wears an “S” on his chest via USATODAY
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Newton has more regular season starts (48-23) and wins (25-17) than Kaepernick but he trails his rival in playoffs experience four games to none entering this week’s showdown.
Both players have rocket arms and are among the best running quarterbacks the league has probably ever seen.
However, Newton was the number-one overall draft pick in the 2011 NFL draft for a reason (Kaepernick was selected 36th overall in the second round) and his poise, leadership and playmaking ability will be on full display against the 49ers.
Both QBs will play well, but the edge goes to Superman.
2.  Riverboat Ron vs Captain Comeback
It’s debatable who has the better nickname between the two coaches who will be prowling the sidelines at BofA this weekend.  “Riverboat Ron” Rivera or Jim “Captain Comeback” Harbaugh?
One thing is for certain, though.  Harbaugh earned his moniker as a quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts while Rivera earned his by ditching his conservative nature and gambling on crucial fourth downs throughout the 2013 regular season.
Harbaugh may have coached in the Super Bowl in his rookie season as an NFL head coach, but Rivera earned his reputation as a coach willing to go against his conservative nature and make a call that changes the outcome of the game.
We saw it happen when Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher called for a onside kick in the BCS championship game on Monday vs Auburn while trailing 21-3 late in the first half.  The Seminoles recovered, scored a touchdown and went on to win the game.
If it comes down to a coach willing to make a gutsy call that could determine the outcome of the game, the edge goes to Rivera.
3.  Top-Ranked Defenses
The Panthers and 49ers had the NFL’s second and third-ranked scoring defenses, respectively, in 2013.
Photo via 49ers.com
Both teams have elite, All-Pro caliber linebackers (Panthers’ Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis vs 49ers’ Patrick Willis and Navaro Bowman), dominant defensive ends (Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Aldon Smith), and both create consistent pressure up the middle.  
However, Carolina could actually have an advantage over San Fran in the secondary thanks to a hamstring injury that sidelined No. 1 corner Carlos Rogers in last weekend’s Wild Card game vs the Green Bay Packers.
This defenses will prove paramount in this game just as they did in Week 10 when San Francisco was kept out of the end zone for only the second time all season (Seahawks in Week 2).
Carolina’s “D” gets the nod because they are playing at home.
Final Score Prediction:
Carolina Panthers 23, San Francisco 49ers 17

Let’s talk on Twitter @jimmygrappone

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